Jack Antonoff must be tired from carrying the entire pop music industry on his shoulders. Whether it be with Lorde, Taylor Swift or Lana Del Rey, Antonoff has been gracing us with beautiful albums for a very long time. Now, as his band Bleachers prepares to release their next album, it’s time to examine Antonoff’s mark on these projects and the techniques that make his production so recognizable.
The current face of pop music production, Antonoff has proved time and time again that any album he touches is gold. “Melodrama,” “Folklore,” “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” and “1989” were all works that achieved extreme levels of success — and a significant part of that is due to Antonoff’s incredible ear for music production. His production style has always consisted of a slight ’80s synth beat that plays around with a variety of instrumentation and vocal techniques. As a result, almost every project he’s worked on has been very dynamic and fluid.
This experimentation with different sounds makes Lorde’s “Melodrama” and Taylor Swift’s “1989” not just good albums, but interesting ones. The songs Antonoff works on are so multidimensional and stimulate the brain so effectively that they almost feel short. “The Louvre,” a song off of “Melodrama,” exemplifies this. On it, Lorde sings, “Megaphone to my chest / broadcast the boom boom boom and make them all dance to it.” Following that line, one would normally expect a techno beat drop — but alas, that’s not Antonoff’s style. That would be too simple, too easy. Instead, he follows up those lyrics with a heavy, deep bass containing a recording of Lorde’s actual heartbeat, adding not only a great, immersive sound to the chorus, but a recording technique that gives context to the album. It’s a practice that Antonoff is clearly a fan of; he also used it on Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams.”
Techniques like eliminating a beat drop or not following the “math” of the song, as he refers to it, are what make Antonoff’s work so special. There’s a very apparent lack of adherence to the rules that govern a pop song. He explained it himself: “Well, everyone’s got systems. And even if your system is no system, that’s a system … So, other songwriters, hence that quote, have some literal ideas. Like, if the verse vocal starts on the one-beat, the pre-chorus can’t. A lot of people have the rule that they do what the song says. If you shout ‘stop’ in the song, the song should stop. If you say ‘I’m alone in my room’ in the song, it should go down to very few instruments. So a lot of people have math.”
He then went on to say, “I’m literally bad at math, quite literally. So I’ve never tried to engage in that.” It’s that sort of blatant disrespect for the technical that makes his work so interesting. It’s unpredictable, innovative and doesn’t leave the audience feeling bored.
Also evident in his production is the fact that Antonoff appreciates a song that doesn’t take itself too seriously. As a former member of the band Fun., he has a pretty good grasp on the meaning of the word. This is visible in Lorde’s “Homemade Dynamite,” where she makes a child-like explosion sound after the lyric, “Now you know it’s really gonna blow.” You can also see it in some of the vocal layering on Del Rey’s work, such as “Happiness is a Butterfly.” Whether it be adding random sound effects that catch the listener by surprise or helping to create a lyrical theme, Antonoff is not scared to do things he’s not supposed to, and it pays off every time. He’s become a secret weapon for every pop icon in the industry.
The title of his new Bleachers album, “Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night,” is, just as you’d expect it to be, quite ironic. Featuring Bruce Springsteen and Lana Del Rey, it’s filled to the brim with songs that focus on introspective and self-referential themes. It’s still filled with the ’80s synth sound that Antonoff is so revered for, especially on his track “Chinatown,” which features Springsteen.
It also includes a lot of the vocal techniques that make his works so successful: the fluidity, vocal layering, varying instrumentation and unpredictability. In tracks such as “How Dare You Want More,” he brings forward that fun, ’80s jazzercise sound even more, making the project full of not only intelligent production, but a versatility that should allow for widespread popularity. Which brings up the question — how has Antonoff’s production become a means for success for everything except for his own work?
Some suggest that Antonoff’s overwhelming presence in the music industry is the reason his personal work isn’t flourishing. When he is constantly working closely with artists of such a high caliber, Antonoff’s own work may feel abandoned. Some people also argue that the producer’s style has become overdone. How much ’80s synth is too much ’80s synth? Is that polished pop sound being left behind? When does Antonoff sleep? These are all questions that we may never get the answers to.
But one thing is for sure: Antonoff is a force to be reckoned with. If his own work — including his most recent album release — ever feels a hint of the magic that he puts into the other projects he produces, there’s no doubt Bleachers will take a very sudden trip to the top of the charts.